Nfld. & Labrador·CBC Investigates

MUN student loses $5K in job scam that targeted schools across Canada

A Memorial University student is out more than $5,000 after he applied for a fraudulent job that was advertised on the school's online student job board — a posting that also appeared on sites for post-secondary institutions across the country.

Atlantic universities have launched database to track and stop fraudulent employment ads

Fadal Saleh lost $5,136 after he applied to a fraudulent job ad posted on Memorial University's student job portal. He says he was sent a cheque from someone he believed to be his employer, and was told to take out the money to buy Bitcoin for a client. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

A Memorial University student is out more than $5,000 after he applied for a fraudulent job that was advertised on the school's online student job board — a posting that also appeared on sites for post-secondary institutions across the country.

In June, Fadal Saleh saw a posting for a part-time junior accountant with Aventics Corporation, which listed an office in Kentucky.

"Are you currently at a local university and looking for part-time accounting experience? We have immediate openings in our accounting group," the ad read.

"This position pays $25/hour and can be flexible around a school schedule with potential benefits."

Saleh sent in his application. Soon after, he said he received a cheque via courier for $5,136 Cdn ($4,000 US), and was emailed instructions from the company's human resources director.

Saleh was told to deposit the cheque into his account, keep some of the money for himself as payment, and use the rest to purchase Bitcoin to send to a client.

While Aventics Corporation is a real company, this job ad that was posted on Memorial University's student job portal earlier this year is not. (Submitted photo)

About two weeks later, Saleh noticed his account was in overdraft. He contacted his employer to find out what was going on.

"He ignored my email and responded with a new email, asking about the other cheques that he sent," he said.

"At that point, I noticed there is something fishy going on."

CBC News is not showing Saleh's face because of safety concerns, unrelated to this story. 

Real company, fake ad

It turns out, while the company, website, address, and name of the HR contact in the ad are real, the job and contact information are fake.

Aventics — the company that was unwittingly used as a guise for this scam — declined interview requests. 

We cannot speculate how or why our company name was used.- Spokesperson for Aventics Corporation

But in a statement, a spokesperson said the company was approached by several Canadian universities in May, asking if a job ad posted to their online career centres was legitimate.

"Aventics confirmed to the universities that contacted us that these ads were fraudulent, and we asked the universities to take the ads down immediately," the statement read.  

"No one from Aventics authorized the posting of these ads. Aventics has no facilities in Canada and does not advertise jobs through Canadian universities. 

"We cannot speculate how or why our company name was used."

Ad got through Memorial's vetting process

The Aventics job ad was posted on Memorial University's student job portal in March.

Jennifer Browne, MUN's associate director of student life, said this situation is rare.

"It does not happen very often," she said. 

"In the last couple of weeks, we've probably had three fraudulent job postings coming in — all of which we have cut."

Jennifer Browne, associate director of student life at Memorial University, says this sort of situation is rare. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Browne said the school thoroughly reviews all submitted job ads before posting them to its student job portal — checking information like the website and contact information — to ensure they are "accurate and legitimate."

She said job scams are becoming more sophisticated, in terms of how fraudsters are making fake ads look real.

"They are using legitimate companies to look like they are legitimate," she said. 

"They may be using an organization's website — that when we check it, it looks legitimate, contact information is legitimate, but they may take an email address that is one letter off from what the accurate email address is. 

"So it comes down to like really having a look at the attention to detail on those things."

In this case, the email for the Aventics ad snuck in an extra ‘T’ into the company's name — so the email was directed to the fraudster, not the company. (CBC)

Browne said the employment ad was removed from Memorial University's site in July, as soon as Saleh reported it.

She said the school hasn't received any other complaints about the position.

Job ad posted at other universities

A CBC News investigation found that the fraudulent Aventics employment ad also appeared on student job boards for several other post-secondary institutions across Canada.

The University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George said the ad was posted for most of last April, before it was taken down.

A statement from the school said it was unaware that the ad was fraudulent until it was contacted by CBC News.

"We received no complaints from students, and to the best of our knowledge, no UNBC students were impacted," the statement reads.

"We are reviewing our processes to help guard against this in the future."

CBC News found the fraudulent Aventics employment ad appeared on student job boards for several other Canadian post-secondary institutions in addition to Memorial University. (CBC)

A spokesperson for Vanier College in Montreal confirmed that the ad was posted and later taken down from its student job board.

"Our policy is that if students flag an ad as being questionable, the college takes it down immediately," the statement reads.

Nova Scotia Community College said the ad was received on March 30, and was removed from its site on April 30.

A statement from the school said that no one accessing the site reported the posting as fraudulent, and there were no complaints.

We will identify any extra measures/steps we can add to our processes to help prevent this type of activity reaching this important student and graduate resource.- Spokesperson for NSCC

The school said the information provided in the ad appeared legitimate and not suspicious.

"We do have a two-step process that allows our staff to dig deeper if, for example, they do not hear back from the contact through the email provided or if the email is not active," the statement reads. 

"If there are concerns at that stage, they will not post."

NSCC noted that the posting has been marked as fraudulent in its system.

"We are taking this opportunity to review our processes around posting employment opportunities on our site. We will identify any extra measures/steps we can add to our processes to help prevent this type of activity reaching this important student and graduate resource," the statement reads.

Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto did not return requests for comment from CBC News.

Another victim

As it turns out, Fadal Saleh was not the only victim.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre told CBC News that, in addition to Saleh's report, it received a complaint in May from Ontario.

The agency said that complaint also involved a posting on a university job board, where counterfeit cheques were sent via courier. The complainant was instructed to cash the cheque and send money back to the fraudster via Bitcoin.

Atlantic Canada action to tackle fraudulent job posts

Browne said she's heard from colleagues in Atlantic Canada that they're seeing an increase in fraudulent job postings on their campuses — and they're banding together to do something about it.

She said the Atlantic Association of College and University Student Services created a shared database in June, so that career centres at post-secondary institutions in the region can track these fake ads.

"We have a central place where we can go and report that, and then also review it when we get job postings," she said.

So far, about a dozen fraudulent ads have been posted to the database.

Browne said she has also recently reached out to see if a similar national database could be developed as a resource for post-secondary schools across the country.

Student in dispute with bank

Meanwhile, Fadal Saleh is in a dispute with his bank over the scam.

The student said, when he was asked by his employer to deposit the cheque into his account through his phone or by ATM, he thought the request was odd. 

So he said he brought the cheque to his local TD branch in St. John's to have it verified.

"It's absurd, because I came to [the bank] to protect me, but then they helped the scammers to carry on their scam," he said.

A spokesperson for TD Canada Trust says it's always concerning to hear that a customer has fallen victim to a scam. (CBC)

TD Canada Trust declined interview requests from CBC News, but a spokesperson said deposited funds are subject to the bank's hold funds policy.

"Once the funds are available, a cheque can still be returned if it is determined to be fraudulent," the statement reads.

"Whether a customer is accepting funds or making payments, it's always important to be comfortable with the transaction and aware of who you are accepting cheques from."

Saleh has made two applications to the bank to get his money back, but both of his appeals were rejected. 

Now, Saleh and his lawyer, who's working on this case pro bono, are taking the bank to small claims court, to try to recoup the cash.

He said TD has also closed his account, and his debt was sent to an external collections agency.

The matter is still before the courts.

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About the Author

Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a journalist with CBC News in St. John's.